MANILA, Philippines – It was the first time for Xu Detan, captain of one of the fishing boats accosted by the Philippine Navy last week, to encounter such a situation since he began fishing 30 years ago.
“I was so scared when I thought that I might not see my family again, especially my 8-month-old grandson,” the 55-year-old Xu said in an interview with China’s state-run Xinhua news agency, in which he recounted his “humiliating” experience with the Philippine Navy in the disputed Scarborough Shoal last week.
The Chinese fishing boats involved, according to the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs, carried marine resources that included “illegally collected corals, giant clams, and live sharks.”
Xu, captain of the Hainan-registered fishing boat Qiong-Qionghai 09099, recounted seeing a gunboat that sped into the lagoon in their area on April 10. Using his ship’s shortwave radio, he reportedly heard a person who spoke in Filipino, apparently a member of the Philippine Navy.
“Their gunboat blocked the entrance of the lagoon. We tried to escape, but we couldn’t move. They were armed with guns and we could only wait,” Xu said in the interview published Tuesday, April 17.
Before China rescued them
Soldiers from the Philippine gunboat reportedly searched the Chinese fishing boats one by one starting around 6 a.m., and in Xu’s ship, even switched off the satellite navigation system and radio communication equipment.
The Filipinos then reportedly took photos of Xu and his 4 crew members while standing on their ship’s bow. The Philippines then published these photos online to prove the illegal fishing charge against the Chinese fishermen, Xu said.
He said Chinese military vessels came to the rescue 12 hours after the Philippine gunship accosted the fishermen.
Xu’s ship then cut by half their planned 50-day voyage.
“We can back in a rush because we were scared and wanted to go back to rest,” Xu told Xinhua, adding “he wouldn’t be able to withstand the suffering if he were detained by the Philippine Navy.”
This is not the first time that non-Chinese authorities have detained Chinese fishermen, Xinhua reported. It cited local government records of detentions made by the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
The news agency said among these countries, the Philippines has detained the largest number of Chinese fishermen – 265 in separate incidents from 2000 to 2011.
Another Chinese captain involved in the April 10 incident, Qiong-Qionghai 03026’s Chen Zebo, reported having been detained by the Philippine Navy twice in 1994 and 1999.
Xinhua said the Chinese fishermen venture into far-away places, like Scarborough Shoal, because for them, “fishing is not simply a way to make a living but is a life in itself.”
“Our fish sell like hotcakes and are priced high. That’s why we risk fishing in such places,” fishing boat owner Ke Weixiu told Xinhua.
Still in stalemate
The standoff between the Philippines and China, which resulted from the incident involving the fishermen, has been ongoing for over a week now.
Negotiations on this between the two countries remain in a stalemate after both accused each other of worsening the tension in Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal.
On Tuesday, China issued a statement blaming the Philippines for aggravating the situation in the disputed territory.
Days earlier, the Philippines implicitly made a similar accusation against China.
The South China Sea, in which Scarborough Shoal is situated, is seen as “a new Persian Gulf,” said veteran China watcher Chito Sta Romana. – Rappler.com